Romans 8:24 – For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? (NIV)
Years ago, there was a terrible storm which unexpectedly hit the west coast of Scotland late one afternoon. All the fishermen in my parish desperately fought against the wind and waves that threatened to engulf their boats. One by one, the trawlers struggled to get into the safety of the harbour. And then, a tragedy occurred. One of the older boats was seen about a mile from the harbour, battling against the boiling black waves. One second, the boat was there in plain view — and then, suddenly, it was gone. There was nothing the crew could do. The force of the wind and waves overwhelmed the trawler and sent it rapidly to the bottom of the sea. Four good fishermen lost their lives that day, and our whole village plunged into mourning.
Only three of the bodies were recovered. When I visited the widow of the fourth man, she couldn't accept what was happening. Time and time again, I visited her, on a daily basis. She had two teenage boys, and they were all utterly devastated. The funerals for the other three fishermen took place within a week of the tragedy, but the fourth fisherman's widow couldn't bring herself to giving permission for the fourth service to take place.
She explained her reasons to me: "If I let you hold the service, John, I'll have to let go of my hope. So long as they can't find his body, I won't believe that he's gone."
For the next six months, we all searched for the body along the shoreline, but we never found it. I visited the family every day, and gently tried to persuade the widow to hold the service. The other fishermen were beginning to get uneasy and blamed some of their bad fishing days on the fact that a funeral had not taken place. Support for the family was giving way to superstition, which is bad news in any fishing community.
Eventually, after a great deal of patience and gentle persuasion, the widow consented to having a funeral. We held the service at the end of the harbour and cast out wreaths onto the surface of the waters. We could see where the boat went down, but it was never recovered, and neither was the fourth body.
Sometimes, in the midst of painful circumstances, people hold on to false hope, which is a very sad form of denial. In our passage today, Paul is writing about a different kind of hope, the hope of being saved for all of eternity by Jesus Christ. Some people, who do not believe in Christ, call it a false hope and say that we are in denial of the unavoidable experience of death. But for those of us who have experienced the joy of Jesus in our hearts, we know that it is an everlasting hope that can never be taken away, and on the day of our demise, it will be fulfilled forevermore.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the true hope of our lives and the shining star of our hearts. Without You, we have no hope; but with You, we have Your promises, Your covenant of grace, and the hope of eternal life in Your kingdom. Help us, this day, to pass on this hope to our families, friends, colleagues, and neighbours. In Your holy name, we pray. Amen.
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